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July 13, 2005

GKA English-Immersion School Tackling Problems

Yesterday's Daily Yomiuri carried a feature article on the Gunma Kokusai Academy, one of the first projects launched under the government's special deregulation zone scheme. The school, in Ota city, is one of the very few in Japan to offer an English immersion program for elementary school students. Indeed, Vice Principal Haruki Inoue is a former employee of Katoh Gakuen in Shizuoka Prefecture, the country's first such school. Most lessons, other than Japanese and social studies, are taught by native-English speakers. GKA currently has 106 students in first grade and 59 fourth graders, with both grades divided into three classes. First-grade classes have proved the more difficult to manage, as the students are new to the primary school system and have to get used to spending half the day speaking in English. The school ultimately plans to provide a unified 12-year program that covers primary to senior high school.

One of the problems the school has faced has been the difficulty of finding enough qualified teachers, and Principal Eugene Cooper has had to help out in some classes. According to Inoue, a high turnover rate of teachers was also a problem at Katoh Gakuen, with the average teacher staying just 18 months. Another serious issue is funding. The prefectural government usually provides subsidies amounting to ¥270,000 per pupil to private schools. But as GKA was the brainchild of Ota Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu, it was decided that the city should bear the brunt of expenses, and the prefecture provides just ¥43,000 per student. As yet, there is no campus for the high school, so the question of funding looms large for both staff and parents.
Gunma Pref. school pioneers English-language immersion
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